Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland War Memorial Museum (or simply the Auckland Museum) is one of New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

's most important museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

s and war memorial
War memorial
A war memorial is a building, monument, statue or other edifice to celebrate a war or victory, or to commemorate those who died or were injured in war.-Historic usage:...

s. Its collections concentrate on New Zealand history (and especially the history of the Auckland Region
Auckland Region
The Auckland Region was one of the sixteen regions of New Zealand, named for the city of Auckland, the country's largest urban area. With one third of the nation's residents, it was by far the biggest population and economy of any region of New Zealand, but the second-smallest land area.On 1...

), natural history
Natural history
Natural history is the scientific research of plants or animals, leaning more towards observational rather than experimental methods of study, and encompasses more research published in magazines than in academic journals. Grouped among the natural sciences, natural history is the systematic study...

, as well as military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....


The museum is also one of the most iconic Auckland
The Auckland metropolitan area , in the North Island of New Zealand, is the largest and most populous urban area in the country with residents, percent of the country's population. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world...

 buildings, constructed in the neo-classicist
Neoclassical architecture
Neoclassical architecture was an architectural style produced by the neoclassical movement that began in the mid-18th century, manifested both in its details as a reaction against the Rococo style of naturalistic ornament, and in its architectural formulas as an outgrowth of some classicizing...

 style, and sitting on a grassed plinth (the remains of a dormant volcano) in the Auckland Domain
Auckland Domain
The Auckland Domain is Auckland's oldest park, and at 75 hectares one of the largest in the city. Located in the central suburb of Grafton, the park contains all of the explosion crater and most of the surrounding tuff ring of the Pukekawa volcano....

, a large public park close to the Auckland CBD
Central business district
A central business district is the commercial and often geographic heart of a city. In North America this part of a city is commonly referred to as "downtown" or "city center"...


Early history

The Auckland Museum traces its lineage back to 1852 when it was established in a farm workers' cottage where Auckland University is now located. With an initial call for the donation of specimens of wool for display it attracted 708 visitors in its first year.

Interest in the museum dwindled over the following decade even as its collection grew, and in 1869 the somewhat neglected and forlorn museum was transferred to the care of The Auckland Institute, a learned society formed two years earlier. An Italianate-style building was constructed for the museum in Princes Street, near Government House and across the road from the Northern Club. These new premises included a large gallery top-lit by a metal framed skylight. This room proved problematic as it was impossible to heat during the winter but overheated during the summer. Canvas awnings used to shield the roof from harsh sunlight made the exhibits difficult to view in the resulting gloom. One of the visitors during the 1890s was the French artist Gauguin, who sketched several Maori items and later incorporated them into his Tahitian period paintings.

In the early years of the 20th century the museum and its collections flourished under visionary curator Thomas Cheeseman, who tried to establish a sense of order and separated the natural history, classical sculpture and anthropological collections which had previously been displayed in a rather unsystematic way. The need for better display conditions and extra space necessitated a move from the Princes St site and eventually the project for a purpose-built museum merged with that of the war memorial to commemorate soldiers lost in World War I. The site was a hill in the Government Domain commanding an impressive view of the Waitamata Harbour. Permission was granted by the Auckland City Council in 1918, the Council in its liberality being given three seats on the Museum Council. As well as an initial gift of £10,000 the Council also agreed to an annual subsidy from the rates towards maintenance of the facility and eventually coaxed several of the other local bodies to the principle of an annual statutory levy of £6,000 to support the museum's upkeep.

The world-wide architectural competition was funded by the Institute of British Architects, a £1,000 sterling prize drew over 70 entries, with Auckland firm Grierson, Aimer and Draffin winning the competition with their neo-classical building reminiscent of Greco-Roman temples. In 1920 the present Domain site was settled on as a home for the museum and in the 1920s after successful fund-raising led by Auckland Mayor Sir James Gunson
James Gunson
Sir James Henry Gunson was a New Zealand businessman and Mayor of Auckland City from 1915 to 1925. He was knighted in 1924.As Mayor, he undertook the building of Auckland Museum and Cenotaph, the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain and the construction of Tamaki Drive...

, building of the Auckland War Memorial Museum began, with construction completed in 1929. It was opened by the Governor-General General Sir Charles Fergusson.

The museum architects commissioned Kohns Jewellers of Queen Street to create a finely detailed silver model of the museum. This was presented to Sir James Gunson
James Gunson
Sir James Henry Gunson was a New Zealand businessman and Mayor of Auckland City from 1915 to 1925. He was knighted in 1924.As Mayor, he undertook the building of Auckland Museum and Cenotaph, the Wintergardens in Auckland Domain and the construction of Tamaki Drive...

 on completion of the museum, in recognition of his leading the project.

The building is considered one of the finest Greco-Roman buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. It has an ‘A’ classification from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, designating it as a building whose preservation is of the utmost importance. Of particular interest is the interior plasterwork which incorporates Maori details in an amalgamation of Neo-Greek and art-deco styles. Likewise the exterior bas-reliefs depicting 20th-century armed forces and personnel are in a style which mixes Neo-Greek with Art-Deco. The bulk of the building is English Portland Stone with detailing in New Zealand granite from the Coromandel.

Two additions were made to the 1929 building, the first in the late 1950s to commemorate the Second World War when an administration annex with a large semi-circular courtyard was added to the southern rear. This extension is of concrete block construction rendered in cement stucco to harmonise with the Portland Stone of the earlier building. In 2006 the inner courtyard was enclosed by the grand atrium at the southern entrance.

The quotation ‘The Whole Earth is the Sepulchre of Famous Men’ over the front porch is attributed to the Greek general, Pericles, in keeping with its commemorative status to affairs of a martial nature.


In the last two decades, the museum was renovated and extended in two stages. The first stage saw the existing building restored and the exhibits partly replaced during the 1990s for $NZ 43 million. The second stage of this restoration has seen a great dome – atrium
Atrium (architecture)
In modern architecture, an atrium is a large open space, often several stories high and having a glazed roof and/or large windows, often situated within a larger multistory building and often located immediately beyond the main entrance doors...

 constructed within the central courtyard, increasing the building's floor area by 60% (an addition of 9,600 m²) for a price of $NZ 64.5 million. $NZ 27 million of that was provided by the government, with the ASB Trust ($NZ 12.9 million) and other donors making up the remainder. The second stage finished in 2007.

The copper and glass dome, as well as the viewing platform–event centre underneath it, had been criticised by some as 'resembling a collapsed soufflé', but quickly won the admiration of critics and public, being noted for 'its undulating lines, which echo the volcanic landscape and hills around Auckland'. Standing in the event centre underneath the top of the dome was likened to being underneath the 'cream-coloured belly of a giant stingray', 'with its rippling wings hovering over the distinctive city skyline'. In June 2007, the 'Grand Atrium' project also received the Supreme Award of the New Zealand Property Council, which noted it as being "world-class", and a successful exercise in combining complex design and heritage demands. It has also received the ACENZ
Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand
The Association of Consulting Engineers New Zealand is New Zealands main business association representing engineers providing consultancy services in a wide range of disciplines...

 Innovate NZ Gold Award (Structural Engineering) for the redevelopment.

The new sections underneath the dome, mostly contained within a kauri-wood-panelled sphere approximately 30 m across, will add 900 m² of additional exhibition space, as well as a 700 people event centre under the dome roof with a 48 m wide free span, new areas for tour and school groups including an auditorium in the sphere-bowl with 200 seats, as well as a restaurant with 450 seats. The bowl, which is the internal centre-piece of the expansion, weighs 700 tonnes and is suspended free-hanging from trusses spanning over it from the elevator four shafts located around it. A new 204-space underground parking garage at the rear has also been constructed to help cover the high demand for parking in the Auckland Domain.

The new sections of the museum have been favourably likened to a Matryoshka doll
Matryoshka doll
A matryoshka doll is a Russian nesting doll which is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. The first Russian nested doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, who was a folk crafts painter at Abramtsevo...

, buildings nested within a building.

Possible railway station

There have been preliminary talks of building a new railway station (possibly featuring the historic station building of the Newmarket Train Station
Newmarket Train Station, Auckland
Newmarket Train Station is located in the Auckland, New Zealand suburb of Newmarket, on the Southern and Western Lines of the Auckland railway network. Serving the busy commercial centre of Newmarket, the station is the second-busiest train station in Auckland, after Britomart...

) in the Parnell
Parnell, New Zealand
Parnell is a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand. It is often billed as Auckland's "oldest suburb" since it dates from the earliest days of the European settlement of Auckland in 1841...

 suburb directly to the east of the Museum. It is thought that such a station would see high demand from museum visitors, especially students and school children.

Collections and exhibitions

The museum houses a large collection of Māori and Pacific Island artefacts
Cultural artifact
A cultural artifact is a term used in the social sciences, particularly anthropology, ethnology, and sociology for anything created by humans which gives information about the culture of its creator and users...

 and treasure
Treasure is a concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered...

s, including for example three entire buildings, including Hotunui, a large carved meeting house built in 1878 at Thames, and Te Toki a Tapiri, a waka taua
Waka (canoe)
Waka are Māori watercraft, usually canoes ranging in size from small, unornamented canoes used for fishing and river travel, to large decorated war canoes up to long...

 (war canoe) from 1830. The museum also stores a photographic collection of 1.2 million images, and stores and exhibits 1.5 million natural history specimens from the fields of botany
Botany, plant science, or plant biology is a branch of biology that involves the scientific study of plant life. Traditionally, botany also included the study of fungi, algae and viruses...

, entomology
Entomology is the scientific study of insects, a branch of arthropodology...

, geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

, land vertebrates and marine biology
Marine biology
Marine biology is the scientific study of organisms in the ocean or other marine or brackish bodies of water. Given that in biology many phyla, families and genera have some species that live in the sea and others that live on land, marine biology classifies species based on the environment rather...

. The stated goal is to eventually possess specimens from all New Zealand species.

There is also an extensive permanent exhibition covering wars, both within New Zealand and New Zealand's participation in overseas conflicts. This exhibition is linked to the War Memorial (see below), and for example shows models of Maori pa
Pa (Maori)
The word pā can refer to any Māori village or settlement, but in traditional use it referred to hillforts fortified with palisades and defensive terraces and also to fortified villages. They first came into being about 1450. They are located mainly in the North Island north of lake Taupo...

s (earth fortifications) and original Spitfire
Supermarine Spitfire
The Supermarine Spitfire is a British single-seat fighter aircraft that was used by the Royal Air Force and many other Allied countries throughout the Second World War. The Spitfire continued to be used as a front line fighter and in secondary roles into the 1950s...

 and Mitsubishi Zero aeroplanes. The Museum holds the largest collection of applied and decorative arts in New Zealand and selections are currently displayed in the Landmarks and Encounters Galleries.

The museum also offers changing special exhibitions. In the recent past (2006), these have included a Da Vinci and a Vikings exhibition. The initial exhibition after the grand re-opening in early December 2006 was 'Vaka Moana', a show about the first Polynesian
The Polynesian peoples is a grouping of various ethnic groups that speak Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic languages within the Austronesian languages, and inhabit Polynesia. They number approximately 1,500,000 people...

 explorers reaching New Zealand. Afterward, the exhibition started travelling the world for several years. Currently (early 2009), the museum is host to a cast of the most complete (over 90%) Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever found, nicknamed "Sue".

War Memorial

Parts of the museum, as well as the Cenotaph and its surrounding consecrated grounds (Court of Honour) in front of the Museum, also serve as a war memorial, mainly to those who lost their lives in the First
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and Second World Wars
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. There are two 'Halls of Memory' within the museum, whose walls, together with a number of additional marble slabs, list the names of all known New Zealand soldiers from the Auckland Region killed in major conflicts during the 20th Century.

Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association
The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association, often referred to as the Returned Services' Association but best known simply as the RSA, is one of the largest voluntary welfare organisations in New Zealand and one of the oldest ex-service organisations in the world.Wounded soldiers...

 representatives have noted that the Cenotaph area is in need of renovation, and also would like measures put in place that ensure the area is treated with more respect by people using the park or visiting the museum. Auckland City was considering replacement the old concrete paving with granite and basalt pavers. This was apparently decided against, possibly for cost reasons. The city has however conducted substantial remedial works, to improve the condition of the existing Court of Honour, including repairs to and lighting of the steps, uplighting of the Cenotaph, as well as general cleaning and a new interpretive engraving provided by the Auckland RSA.

In early 2010, Auckland City Council
Auckland City Council
Auckland City Council was the local government authority representing Auckland City, New Zealand, and was amalgamated into the Auckland Council on 1 November 2010. It was an elected body representing the 404,658 residents of the city...

 started work in front of the Court of Honour, up to then taken up by a smaller car park. The area is to be changed to provide a new water feature instead, and walkways and other infrastructure will also be upgraded. Work around the court is to be completed by Anzac Day
Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, commemorated by both countries on 25 April every year to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who fought at Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire during World War I. It now more broadly commemorates all...

2010, with the remainder following in July 2010.

Hillary estate

The memorabilia of the late Sir Edmund Hillary, first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, led to legal action between his children, Peter and Sarah Hillary, and the Museum over whether the Museum had the right to exhibit and provide to researchers online the donated material as rightful owners of the collection. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key offered to mediate, and his offer was accepted.

The matter was resolved amicably. On Monday 20 July, the Board of Auckland Museum and Peter and Sarah Hillary released a joint statement saying: "Both parties are pleased that Sir Edmund’s final wishes have been satisfied by the placement of the Archive in the Museum. The Hillarys recognise the expertise and reputation of the Museum as a world class repository and that it is important that an Archive of such public importance has been entrusted to the Museum."

In the agreement the museum acknowledged the material it held included personal family history and that Sir Edmund’s children had special rights over the use of the estate. The Hillary family also acknowledged that the museum had the right of possession and would conduct an inventory of the archive. The inventory would record documents that Sir Edmund clearly did not intend the Museum to have and these would be returned. It would also identify any documents that should be restricted for 20 years unless the Hillary family permitted their use.

Vitali tenure

The appointment and activities of Dr Vanda Vitali, a Canadian citizen appointed new museum director in the late 2000s (until her resignation in 2010) saw a number of highly disputed changes in the museum, with numerous staff being made redundant, or having to reapply for their positions. The museum also charged a controversial "donation" for entry (while still claiming to provide free entry), despite a museum levy being part of the regional rates.

Vitali was roundly criticised for many of her actions by a number of former staff and public figures, such as editorialist Pat Booth who accused her of downplaying the "War Memorial" element of the museum name and function, as well as by former finance head of the museum, Jon Cowan, who in a letter to the New Zealand Herald argued after her resignation that she was responsible for a significant fall in visitor numbers and visitor satisfaction during her tenure. He also claimed that these statistics had ceased to be published in the second year of Vitali's work at the museum, given the clear negative trends of her initial year.

External links

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